By Eddie Chikamhi
The stage is shaping up for the back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations football qualifiers between Zimbabwe and Algeria after the Desert Foxes announced a star-studded unit led by Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez at the weekend.
The Algerians, who top Group H and followed by Zimbabwe in the 2021 AFCON qualifying race, have drawn together players from some of Europe’s top leagues like the English Premiership, the Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga.
With a few exceptions, Algerian coach Djamel Belmadi called on virtually the same team that won the last AFCON finals in Egypt in 2019.
Some of the notable names in the selection include Said Benrahma (West Ham, England), Yacine Brahimi (Al-Rayyan, Qatar), Adam Ounas (Cagliari, Italy), Andy Delort (Montpellier, France) and Ismael Bennacer of AC Milan in Italy.
France-based defenders Youcef Atal and Djamel Benlamri, who did not take part in the recent training camp in Europe from October 5 to 13, were also called-up in the 24-member side.
Belmadi also did not recall a few players who participated in this training camp, which was marked by the two matches played by Algeria against Nigeria (1-0) and Mexico (2-2). They are Zinedine Ferhat (Nîmes, France), Abdel jalil Medioub (CD Tondela, Portugal) and Maxime Spano-Rahou (Valenciennes, France).
The squad is also missing Youcef Belaili, who played a role in the Greens’ coronation in the 2019 African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt. The international midfielder has been without a club for several months.
The Algerians will host the first leg of the AFCON qualifiers at the 5 July 1962 Stadium in Algiers on Thursday night (9pm Zim time) before coming down to Zimbabwe for the return leg four days later at the National Sports Stadium.
Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic said he was not intimidated by the strength of the Algeria team. The Croat sounded confident and was content with the underdog’s tag in this Group H contest.
“Firstly, what is important is that I am optimistic. If I am somebody who is scared in life I would not have been here in Zimbabwe; I would not have been here in Africa,” he said.
“Plus, in football, in 90 minutes, I have to talk on the bench and the players have to talk on the field. Why should we be scared?
“At this moment Algeria are really the best but I want to see where we are now. We don’t know where we are. We want to see because there are always some stories like we were unlucky in AFCON, we were unlucky in maybe this and maybe that. Let’s see really where we are.”
The Warriors began trooping into camp on Friday but they could not arrange training sessions since they had only eight players by yesterday. The majority of the Zimbabwe internationals could not travel early as they were expected to feature for their clubs on Saturday and Sunday.
Skipper Knowledge Musona is expected to be among the 10 foreign-based players scheduled to arrive today. Also expected today is Jimmy Dzingai, Jordan Zemura, Tendayi Darikwa, Adam Chicksen, Tafadzwa Rusike, Kuda Mahachi, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Khama Billiat and David Moyo.
The quartet of Teenage Hadebe, Marvelous Nakamba, Tino Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi will be the last to arrive tomorrow. The United States-based duo of Tendai Jirira and goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva could not make it because of the travel complications in the USA.
Zimbabwe will depart for Algeria aboard a charter flight later tomorrow.
Unlike their opponents who had a week-long training camp in Europe during the recent FIFA window, Logarusic bemoaned the limited time he has had with the Warriors.
His players could not make it for the international friendly match against Malawi because of logistical challenges.
“Do we will bring the best of what we have at this moment?” Logarusic said.
“It’s not realistic because we could not have trainings together. Look at those boys, they are traveling 15 hours from Europe and to travel to Algeria nine to 10 hours, that means they will be 24 hours in the plane.
“Plus, they are eating this and that and the changing climate for sure they will have so many disadvantages. But let’s try our best. Let’s see, can we compare with them (Algeria)?
“If we cannot compare with them 90 minutes, can we compare 70 minutes, can we compare 60 minutes, then we know if we cannot compare 60 minutes maybe it’s lack of fitness or maybe lack of this and that but let’s see exactly where we are at the moment.
“That’s most important for us, then we know that is our fundamental and from there we can build up more. We must be realistic they are the favourites.
“First game is out there, secondly we are coming without proper training, am I right? We are coming with some players that didn’t meet the coach but we are Warriors. Sometimes you have to go into a fight without knowing what’s going on out there but we have to do our best,” said Logarusic.
Goalkeepers – Elvis Chipezeze (Baroka, SA), Talbert Shumba (Nkana, Zambia).
Defenders: Jimmy Dzingai (Nkana, Zambia), Alec Mudimu (Sheriff Tiraspol, Moldova), Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth, England), Teenage Hadebe (Yeni Malatyaspor, Turkey), Divine Lunga (Golden Arrows, SA), Tendayi Darikwa (Nottingham Forest, England), Adam Chicksen (Notts County, England)
Midfielders: Marshal Munetsi (Stade de Reims, France), Ovidy Karuru (Unattached), Butholezwe Ncube (Amazulu, SA), Tafadzwa Rusike (Zesco United, Zambia), Kuda Mahachi (Supersport, SA), Knowledge Musona (KAS Eupen, Belgium), Terrence Dzvukamanja (Orlando Pirates, SA), King Nadolo (Dynamos), Marvelous Nakamba (Aston Villa, England), Khama Billiat (Kaizer Chiefs, SA)
Strikers: Tino Kadewere (Olympique Lyon, France), David Moyo (Hamilton Academical, Scotland) Prince Dube (Azam, Tanzania)
Goalkeepers: Rais Mbolhi (Al-Ettifaq – Saudi Arabia), Azzedine Doukha (Al-Raed – Saudi Arabia), Alexandre Oukidja (FC Metz – France)
Defenders: Mohamed Fares (Lazio, Itay), Youcef Atal (OGC Nice – France), Aissa Mandi (Real Betis – Spain), Djamel Benlamri (Lyon – France), Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Mönchengladbach – Germany), Mehdi Tahrat (Abha Club – Saudi Arabia), Réda Halaïmia (K Beerschot VA – Belgium)
Midfielders: Mehdi Abeid (Nantes – France), Mehdi Zerkane (Bordeaux – France), Sofiane Feghouli (Galatasaray – Turkey), Adlène Guedioura (Al-Gharafa – Qatar), Ismaël Bennacer (AC Milan – Italy), Haris Belkebla (Brest FC – France), Farid Boulaya (Metz – France)
Forwards: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City – England), Adam Ounas (Cagliari – Italy), Saïd Benrahma (West Ham – England), Baghdad Bounedjah (Al Sadd – Qatar), Andy Delort (Montpellier – France), Karim Aribi (Nimes – France), Yacine Brahimi (Al-Rayyan, Qatar). The Herald.